Leopoldina born Demerval Lopes de Lacerda (1933-2007), was born in born in Rio de Janeiro on a carnival Saturday. He didn’t grow up with his own mother and therefore he was often beaten and neglected. At a certain age he decided to leave his home. He slept in train wagons and made living selling sweets at public places. He started to make up rhymes to enhance his selling and also started to sell in the trains. People say he was nicknamed after one of Rio’s train stations, but he states that his nickname was after a locomotive he used to imitate. Having lived like this for a while Leopoldina heard of a place were street children were sheltered and fed. This made the struggle a bit easier.
As a teenager, and in a time of great poverty, he went of his own accord to SAM (Serviço de Assistência ao Menor) – a dreaded Child Care Service. Leopoldina had no complaints from his time there; on the contrary, as a young street rogue, he soon joined the “directors” team. He learned to swim, among other things, regularly circling the island where the institution was located, which left him in excellent physical shape.
When he left SAM, already eighteen years old in 1951, and too old to sell candy and peanuts on trains, he began selling newspapers and soon set up a team.
It was at this time that he met Quinzinho, or Joaquim Felix, a dangerous young delinquent and gang leader, who had already served time in the Penal Colony and had a few deaths on his conscience. Quinzinho was a capoeirista and was Leopoldina’s first master in the art of “tiririca”, the capoeira without berimbau of the carioca reprobates, descended from the capoeira of gangs of the 1800s.
A few years later, Quinzinho was once again arrested and this time murdered in prison. Leopoldina disappeared from the area due to fear of reprisals from delinquent enemies. When he returned to the streets, he met Artur Emídio, recently arrived from Itabuna, Bahia. He became Artur’s student around 1954, knowing then the Bahian capoeira was played to the berimbau.
Later, Leopoldina went to work at Cais do Porto and eventually managed to join Resistência, one of the dock branches. He retired early – before the age of forty-five, due to a work accident (which fortunately left no consequences) and lived the life of a capoeirista and high-spirited trickster more intensely.
Another important aspect of Leopoldina’s life was his relationship with samba. He went out with Mangueira for the first time at the 1961 Carnival at the age of twenty-eight. Mangueira was the first samba school to include capoeira in its parades, which gave capoeira great visibility. Leopoldina even organized a group of sixty capoeiristas to demonstrate the artform in the V.C. Entende wing, the show hall of Mangueira. He kept his partnership going with Mangueira until about 1974.